Many people and new businesses want to have a website, but for those who’ve never done it before it’s hard to know where to begin. There’s no shortage of ways to set up a website and the multitude of options can be paralyzing for newbies. There are a number of things to consider that don’t necessarily meet the eye of someone who hasn’t done it before, so we’re going to break it all down for you. As you go through this, if you have any questions, leave a comment or give us a call (419-660-0500). Or if you decide you just want to hire us to do some or all of it for you, we can discuss that, too. Let’s begin.
One of the least obvious issues is that you have to select a company to host your website. Your website won’t run off your computer. You need to hire a web hosting firm to be the “broadcaster” for your website. We like Siteground. We’ve moved all of our websites to Siteground. Their prices are good and their customer service (when we’ve needed it) has been unbelievably good — very fast response times and quick resolution of all of our questions or problems.
While the web hosting decision is foundational to getting your site up and running, you should choose your host based on other decisions that are discussed below. Signing up with the web host is actually one of the last things that you do in the chain of events, but worth keeping in mind throughout the process.
What’s Your Address?
Another big consideration is choosing the web address for your site. The address is also called your domain or URL. Your domain will be the address that people will use to go to your site and will be the name that your audience thinks of your site as, so this is a very important decision. Be forewarned that every good and obvious domain name that you want may already be taken by someone else. Just because a name isn’t available doesn’t mean it’s actually in use by someone else. Good domain names are bought up by speculators who think they will be wanted by someone someday and will sell you the rights to it at a premium. Back in the days when the web was new, a lot of people got rich quick by buying up names like www.pepsi.com and selling them to the Pepsi company for vast amounts of money. So be advised that a lot of domain names are taken, whether they are actually being used or not. If you’re desperate and have deep pockets, you can buy the rights to one of these taken but unused domains, but most of us will just keep looking for unlicensed alternatives. We recommend sitting with a small brainstorming group (very small), a bottle of wine, a whiteboard and internet access. As names are considered, you can list them on the whiteboard while someone else checks for their availability. The bottle of wine makes the session more productive. Trust us on this. We’ve done it before. More than once.
There are several websites from which you can buy your domain. They will let you do a search for the name you want to use and will let you know if it’s available or not. Some of these sites will suggest variations on the name if the one you want isn’t available. Then they will sell you the rights to use the domain name on a contract basis. The company that we use for buying our domain names is NameCheap. Click on the link to check them out. Sandy has more experience with domain buying than I do and she strongly suggests that you not buy your domain name from the same company that does your web hosting. I always do what my wife strongly suggestions, so enough said there.
When it comes to domain names, I recommend staying with a “dot-com” address unless you have a good reason not to. Some sites use .org or .info or .net or whatever, but .com is by far the one that most people will think of when they try to find you online. If the main part of your domain name is already taken by a .com, you might be tempted to buy the same name with a .net or .org extension (it will probably be temptingly cheap), but I can guarantee you that nearly all of your potential users will go to .com first. When they don’t find you there, they may or may not think to try .net or whatever. One of the more famous examples of this is the White House’s website: www.WhiteHouse.gov. For years there was another site by the same name with a .com extension. It was a porn site. They knew that most people would type in .com by default and come to their site instead. Eventually the White House pulled the plug on those guys.
When you find a domain name that works for you, you might want to consider buying the rights to the .com, .net, and .org versions as well, and having all of them link to your .com site. That way no one else will have access to a name that is identical to yours in every way except what follows the dot, and if your users type in the .org or .net variation, it will always take them to you. Just a suggestion, not a necessity.
Bottom line: Go with a .com if at all possible and avoid good names that already have the .com version taken.
Choose Your Platform
The next major decision you have to make is what “platform” you’re going to use to build your website. There are lots of different software and systems that you can use to create a website. This decision is the biggest fork in the road that you will come to. Once you choose a certain path, you’re on it. Deciding later to go with something else will likely require a complete rebuilding of your site to make the change. Options include coding it in HTML or going with one of the trendy, template-driven platforms such as Joomla, Drupal, DotNetNuke, or WordPress.
Fortunately, this decision has almost become a no-brainer for a lot of people. There is one platform that is dominating the web market right now with almost 20% of all new websites worldwide using it. It’s what we use for all of our websites. We’ve gone with WordPress. WordPress is easy to use, easy to update and maintain, many consider it to be fun, and best of all, it’s free. There is a paid version of WordPress. Don’t go with it. The free version is actually a much better and more flexible option.
Let’s detour here to talk a little bit about your website and what you want it to do. Many first-time website owners want to keep it simple and basic. They wisely don’t want to get in over their head. They plan to add on to it as they go. Many folks just want a static page that acts essentially like an online billboard. Sounds nice, but you will undoubtedly want and need more than that. Soon you’ll want to convey timely information to your readers, and a static (i.e., unchanging) page isn’t going to do it for you. Many business sites will want to have the capability to tell their readers news about their business — new products, services, capabilities, or special sales or events. In other words, you’ll probably want your site to promote your business in a timely and dynamic way. (You should have a Facebook page for your business, too, but that’s a topic for another blog.) Later on, you might even want to grow into having a forum on your site where regular visitors or members would have a semi-private online community. WordPress is ideal for that kind of stuff and it’s very easy to modify and add on to as your site grows.
You Need a Theme
The web host and platform that you choose are behind-the-scenes decisions that your website visitors will never know or care about. They’re much more concerned about how easy it is to get to your site (i.e., good domain name), and how easy it is to use and navigate your website once they get there. These are website design issues.
WordPress sites are run from a template or “theme.” A theme is a “skin” that defines the layout and design which holds the content of your website. You can change themes in WordPress with the click of your mouse, reformatting your content into an entirely new design. The content remains the same, but your layout is all different. The choices can be overwhelming, but it can be fun to shop through all the options that are available to you. Pick one theme or several, copy them to your WordPress site, and start pouring in your content — words, photos, whatever.
The beauty of WordPress themes is that you can download free themes created by WordPress developers and hobbyists, or you can buy professionally designed themes that provide a lot of advanced features, or you can design and build your own themes using software that generates all of the code for you while you just make visual design decisions.
We’ve never used a free or store-bought WordPress theme. We have a couple of different software packages that generate WordPress themes, so we’ve always “rolled our own.” We’ve mainly used a template generator called Artisteer. It’s a very cool and unbelievably simple website generator that you can use to create WordPress themes. If you want to go there and download the free demo to play with, it might change your whole life. You can jump right in and start using Artisteer without reading the instruction manual. It’s so easy a 7-year-old can generate cool website designs that work.
Get Up and Running
Once you’ve acquired a WordPress theme by whatever means, you copy the files to your webhost and start adding content through the WordPress “dashboard.” Once you tell WordPress to post your content, the rest of the world can view it on your site. It’s a beautiful thing.
While this step is getting the least amount of space in this article, it’s really the most important and time consuming. Creating content – that is, the words and pictures your visitors will find when they visit your site – should be where you spend most of your time. Yes, the design must be user friendly so visitors can find all your wonderful content, but if your content isn’t worth finding, everything else you’ve done has been a waste of time.
Yes, there are a lot of steps involved and it can be massively confusing, but truth be told, none of it is really very difficult. Once you’ve been through the procedure a couple of times it’s no more difficult than firing up your word processor and drafting a letter.
We Can Help
We’re happy to be your guides through the process. Give us a call (419-660-0500), let us know what you’re thinking, and we can help you create a place of your very own on the web.